A few months ago, I travelled to Xinjiang (Northwestern part of China) with a few friends. Visiting the coastal Chinese metropolitans time and again, it is easy to forget, and at times, underestimate the vast varieties of terrains, landscapes and culture that the country has to offer. And Xinjiang is definitely as rural as it can get. Before travelling, I suggest downloading Baidu Map use this instead of Google Map, and purchasing an overseas SIM card that allows you to use globally accessible apps. However, be prepared to be without internet for long periods of time during the trip. Xinjiang is geographically massive, taking up a sixth of China. For those who are unfamiliar, that is 2.3 times the size of Texas.The landscapes are vast, and every scenic attraction a lot more than a stone’s throw from each other.
Our road trip began from Urumqi, the biggest city in Xinjiang. First stop – Kanas National Geopark – twelve hours drive from Urumqi. Kanas is famous for its untouched nature. The two main attractions are Shenxian Bay and Guanyu Observation Tower. We were able to make good on time and reach Kanas right before sunset. We headed straight for the Guanyu Observation Tower, where you can get an aerial view of Kanas Lake. The gorgeous yellow rays piercing through the dense layers of autumn leaves made for a picture-perfect scene of serenity. As the sun dipped, we made our way down to the national park village. We decided to stay in the park so as to wake up in time for sunrise to catch the morning fog at Shenxian Bay. While the Shenxian fog is common enough to become a tourist attraction, it has not been honored with a name like Karl the fog in San Francisco.
The morning fog dancing in between the trees was absolutely gorgeous. Before the sun comes up, the fog provides a cold, unforgiving, but picturesque ambience providing a natural filter draped over an already beautiful backdrop. But after the sun rises, the scene, mood, and visual emotion of the site is completely flipped. The first light penetrates through the thick fog giving a sense of clarity; a sense of hope. After an amazing sunrise at foggy Shenxian Bay, we left for Kumu Village. At the village, we did a quick visual scout to find a good vantage point for sunset. As we hiked up a hill, the sun began to make it’s descent. The rays slowly began to splash the corrugated metal sheet roofs of the Kumu houses with its warm and orange shades as it slowly sank behind the hills that shroud the village. We spent the night in on of the wooden houses and experienced the Kumu way of life. The next day at sunrise we were perched once again atop a nearby hill. The morning fog mingling with the smoke from the chimneys provided us an interesting take of Kumu.
Next spot was Devil City in Urho, Karamay, which looked like a set straight out of Mad Max. The natural structures had been carved out by centuries of strong winds, so do expect it to be quite windy in this area. It also gets very dusty and sandy, so make sure your camera gear is well-protected while you explore Devil City.
After Devil City, we visited Anjihai Grand Canyon which is great for sunrise. One of my favorite things about Northern XInjiang is that the landscapes are so different and there is so much variety between each of the attractions. At Anjihai, the beautiful graphical patterns are so surreal you can’t stop looking and capturing the landscape with both a wide angle lens and a zoom lens.
Last but not least – Tekesi Bagua City, in which the urban planning is unique and second to none. It’s based on religion and the only way to see the urban planning of this crazy cityscape is from up in the air. If you are not planning to drone, it may not be worth visiting this area.
Hope you enjoyed these tips to travelling and taking photos around Northern Xinjiang. Be sure to follow my Instagram (@lielaine) for more photos from my travel!